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Foad Torshizi (Rhode Island School of Design)

Foad Torshizi

Foad Torshizi
Image Credit: Golrokh Fazl

Fellow in Research Area 4: "Literary Currencies"

August – November 2022

Translating Minds: Iranian Modernism and the Discourse of Art Criticism

Translating Minds traces the introduction of concepts of European Modernism into the local lexicon of art and literary criticism in Iran between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s. It examines the determining role that the translation of major European thinkers played in the formation of the intellectual discourses of the left in Iran, which in turn continues to have a strong impact on the emergence of local discourses of literature, literary criticism, and art history that are dependent on Eurocentric ideals of style, originality, influence, authenticity, and novelty. To draw this genealogy, the project not only looks into art-historical accounts, archives of exhibition reviews and critiques of plastic arts, but also into the early stages of the development of a robust critical language of literary analysis and appreciation that was flourishing in Iran during those decades. Given that the terminology formed in literary arts soon found its way into discourses of plastic arts criticism, it is necessary to examine the two fields as inexorably interrelated and understand them as mutually informing. Moreover, many of the early examples of art criticism were penned by public intellectuals and literary figures, including Taqi Arani, Reza Baraheni, Ehsan Tabari, Ahmad Shamloo, Simin Daneshvar, and Jalal Al-e Ahmad. Examining their writings, Translating Minds intends to draw a genealogy of the critical vocabulary that found currency in Iranian art criticism in the mid-twentieth century and study how it continues to shape, in various ways, the current understanding and the core concepts of contemporary art and literature in Iran.

Foad Torshizi is Assistant Professor of Art History at Rhode Island School of Design, where he is also an affiliate faculty in the graduate programme in Global Arts and Cultures. He holds degrees in Comparative Literature and Society and Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures (PhD and MPhil, Columbia University), Art History (MA, University of Minnesota) and Photography (MFA, Honar University of Tehran). Prior to joining the RISD faculty in 2017, he taught graduate students at Tehran University, advanced undergraduates and graduate students at the Università degli Studi di Milano in Italy as well as undergraduate students in Columbia University’s Core Curriculum. Torshizi’s research interests are in the areas of global contemporary art, contemporary Iranian and Middle Eastern art, postcolonial theory, ethics of readership, theories of globalization and cosmopolitanism, comparative literature and the politics of translation and interpretation. His research has appeared in books and academic journals both in the US and Iran. Most recently (May 2021) he published an article in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (Duke University Press) on the works of the prolific Iranian artist Ghazaleh Hedayat and feminism in contemporary Iranian art. His latest article, “Loquacious Objects: Contemporary Iranian Art, Auto-translation, and the Readings of Benevolence,” is forthcoming in early 2023 in Grey Room (MIT Press), and he is currently co-editing a special issue on postcolonialism, art history, and the global turn.